Capture of underage female IS-supporter in Mosul shows extent the group’s appeal

 

As the so-called Islamic State’s last bastions in Mosul fell, Iraqi soldiers and militias captured a host of IS-fighters. Amongst them were a larger number of foreigners who had joined the terrorist group over the preceding years.

Trip to the Levant in 2016

Yet few arrests have called forth more international attention than the case of Linda Wenzel, a 16-year-old girl from a small town in Saxony, Germany. She was discovered by Iraqi forces in a tunnel along with 20 other female IS-supporters, three of whom were also German.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamischer-staat-vermisste-jaehrige-aus-sachsen-im-irak-aufgegriffen-1.3599355 ))

The teenager had left her home in 2016 and had been missing since then. Her turn towards jihadism had occurred unbeknownst to her parents and her family. According to investigators, online conversations with IS-sympathisers were key in swaying the girl to travel to the Levantine battlefields via Frankfurt and Istanbul.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html ))

“Jihadi bride”

Her precise role within IS remains unclear. Iraqi sources have described her as a sniper; yet given the group’s conservatism in gender matters it seems unlikely that the young woman was allowed to play an active combat role, even if she should have wished to do so.

According to intelligence sources, she was married off to a Chechen IS-fighter; a fact that has led many media outlets to refer to her as a “jihadi bride.”(( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/18/teenage-german-isil-bride-captured-mosuls-old-city/, http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html )) This points to the ways in which the IS’s female recruits are seen as even more ‘exotic’ and quintessentially incomprehensible than their male counterparts.

IS’s female members

Yet in contrast to many other jihadist groups, the IS has been extremely adept at attracting female supporters. According to the German domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, 20 per cent of Germans who have joined the group are female. And among the minors flocking to the caliphate, 50 per cent are women.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

German Islamic studies scholar and counter-terrorism expert Marwan Abou-Taam points to the ways in which the IS has managed to offer an appealing vision to many young women. Many are taken in by the glossy portrayal of jihadi fighters online. Becoming a wife and child-bearer to a fighter provides new sense and meaning, Abou-Taam highlights.((http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

Extradition to Germany

Not all women are joining the IS for personal or marital reasons, however: many wish to make a contribution to the creation of the caliphate and are highly ideologically motivated.

Whether this was the case for Linda Wenzel remains to be seen. Personnel from the German Embassy are in touch with her and the other German women arrested in Mosul. It is understood that Germany will seek their extradition. If they remain in Iraq, the women may be facing the death penalty, as marriage to and support of IS-fighters are treated as a capital offence in Iraq.(( http://www.zeit.de/gesellschaft/zeitgeschehen/2017-07/islamischer-staat-linda-w-dresden-is-kaempferin ))

Challenge of reintegration

In her home town of Pulsnitz in Saxony, public opinion is split on Linda Wenzel’s arrest and her potential return. Some of the town’s inhabitants expressed relief that the girl had been found. They hoped for a speedy reunion with her parents.

Others openly voiced their fears. One of the girl’s former neighbours asserted that “we don’t need her here. At the end of it, she might show up with an explosive belt.”(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/islamischer-staat-die-dschihad-braut-aus-pulsnitz-a-1159114.html ))

This highlights once more how the arrest of the so-called “foreign fighters” that had joined extremist groups in Iraq and Syria is not so much an endpoint as a new start to the problem: the meaningful reintegration of these men, women, and children remains an issue that European governments will have to struggle with for the foreseeable future.

First British Muslim man to have a gay marriage attacked online

A Muslim man, Jahed Choudhury, and his husband, Sean Rogan, were married last week in the West Midlands. The couple wore traditional Bangladeshi attire during their registry office ceremony. The family of Choudhury was not present for the ceremony because of their disapproval of gay marriage.

The online response from Muslims has been mostly negative. When Pink News, a gay news outlet, posted a story about the couple by BBC Midlands, non-attributed comments read, “Islam Forbids This…they can’t be Muslim If they are Gay” (sic) and “It’s like eating meat and calling myself a vegetarian.”

Other comments on the story expressed the irreconcilability of the two identities with the metaphor “oil and water doesn’t mixed” (sic) tweeted Muslim man, Rasheed Aashiq. Twitter user, Saeed Nagi Nagi, said the ceremony missed Muslim elements such as nikkah (an Islamic marriage contract), dua (a prayer), and an imam (religious leader). These elements may not have been available to the couple because of their genders.

Responding to The Independent’s story on Twitter one Muslim man, Mansoor Khan (@Mansoor_Javed), said, “just putting asian costumes doesn’t make it a Muslim marriage, there is no concept of gay marriage in Islam” (sic). Another twitter user, Haithem Khalil (@KhalilHaithem) said, “They are not Muslims, we don’t have gays and lesbians” (sic).

The couple was frustrated and upset by the online abuse but hope to show others that being Muslim and gay are not incompatible.

 

First British Muslim man to have a gay marriage attacked online

A Muslim man, Jahed Choudhury, and his husband, Sean Rogan, were married last week in the West Midlands. The couple wore traditional Bangladeshi attire during their registry office ceremony.

The online response from Muslims has been mostly negative. When Pink News, a gay news outlet, posted a story about the couple by BBC Midlands, comments read, “Islam Forbids This…they can’t be Muslim If they are Gay” (sic) and “It’s like eating meat and calling myself a vegetarian.”

Twitter responses to The Independent’s story about the couple included one Muslim man saying, “just putting asian costumes doesn’t make it a Muslim marriage, there is no concept of gay marriage in Islam” (sic). Another said, “They are not Muslims, we don’t have gays and lesbians” (sic).

Other comments on the story expressed the irreconcilability of the two identities with the metaphor “oil and water doesn’t mixed” (sic). Others said the ceremony missed Muslim elements such as nikkah (an Islamic marriage contract), dua (a prayer), and an imam (religious leader). These elements may not have been available to the couple because of their genders.

France, Britain to jointly combat online terror threat

The UK and France are moving ahead with a joint plan to fight terrorism, online hate speech, and to crack encrypted data.

Speaking together in Paris on Tuesday, President Macron and UK prime minister Theresa May said the two countries were renewing their counter-terrorism cooperation.

The plan includes possibly imposing fines on social media giants for not taking down flagged online hate speech quickly enough. They also spoke about prying apart encrypted messages, which posed broader questions on civil liberty and cyber security.

But Macron said they first wanted to make sure internet operators “delete any content promoting hatred and terrorism in any way.”

May echoed Macron’s views and said that while cooperation between their intelligence agencies was strong, more should be done to tackle the online threat.

“We are launching a joint UK-French campaign to ensure that the internet cannot be used as a safe space for terrorists and criminals,” she said.

May said the plan was to get companies to develop tools to identify and automatically remove the offending material. “Our campaign will also include exploring creating a legal liability for tech companies if they fail to take the necessary action to remove unacceptable content,” she said.

France currently has no laws for mandatory encryption backdoors, but instead allows for government hacking to access pre-encrypted data.

A 2015 Intelligence Act gives French intelligence officers blanket immunity to hack computers abroad and also enables them to break into systems at home. In 2016, the French version of a French-German joint statement on counter-terrorism also called for a ban on unbreakable encryption. The German version did not. The UK can already compel the removal of encryption via its 2016 investigatory powers act. The British government also has the power to hack anyone’s computer.

Pressure has been mounting for EU legislation on granting police forces access to encrypted data, with French and German ministers calling for an EU bill before the end of the year.

 

After mosque attack in Canada, critics point to anti-immigrant ‘trash radio’

The mayor of Quebec, Régis Labeaume along with Primier Philippe Couillard acknowledged that xenophobia and hate was being spread by what they call  “radio poubelle,” or “trash radio.” Quebec City has developed the dubious reputation of being Canada’s ­capital of shock jocks, online ­radio hosts who love to provoke with outrageous talk about women, homosexuals and Muslims.

Labeaume, appeared to criticize the radio stations. Speaking at an outdoor vigil in memory of the victims Monday evening, he denounced those who “get rich from peddling hatred.”  While Couillard acknowledged Tuesday that the province has “its demons” and that “xenophobia, racism and exclusion are present here.” But he told reporters that Quebec society is generally open and tolerant.

There is no indication that the man charged in the attack, Alexandre Bissonnette, was particularly influenced by trash radio, but members of the Muslim community were quick to complain about the corrosive impact of the anti-immigrant rhetoric heard on the city’s airwaves.

Islamist “mole” exposed at German domestic intelligence agency

Arrest on November 16

A 51-year-old man working at the German domestic intelligence agency – the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) – has been exposed as an alleged sympathiser of the jihadist cause.

He was arrested on November 16, after he had been placed under surveillance by his own employer for the preceding weeks.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html )) The 51-year-old had been part of the agency’s office tasked with monitoring the country’s Islamist scene.

His employer appears to have been alerted to the man’s questionable role when he offered advice to a fellow jihadist during an online chat session. The agent noted that he could supply access to the Verfassungsschutz buildings in Cologne in order to facilitate an attack on “unbelievers”. He asserted that he was “ready to do anything to help the brothers”. What he did not know was that his counterpart during the chat was himself working for the Verfassungsschutz.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html ))

Actions “in the name of Allah”

No clear picture of the man and his potential motivations has emerged so far. Following his arrest, he claimed that he had sought to use his position at the agency to warn his brothers in faith of any potential investigations against them. His actions were, according to him, in accordance with Allah’s will.

Yet while he had mentioned internal matters from the Verfassungsschutz during the abovementioned online conversation, he does not appear to have leaked further information on the agency’s ongoing investigations.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html )) The man nevertheless presented himself as part of a large-scale plan to “infiltrate” the intelligence office.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html ))

Mental health questions

More than two weeks after the arrest, however, there are ongoing questions as to whether the man is a ‘Salafist’ or ‘jihadist’ or in fact an unstable individual. While in custody, the man has made a range of “mystical allusions” that appear to raise questions about his mental health.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html ))

He claims to have converted to Islam following a “spontaneous inspiration” in 2014 while on the phone with an unidentifiable “Mohamed” from Austria. Neither his wife nor his four children were aware of his alleged conversion.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html )) The man’s work as an actor in homosexual pornographic movies also at least casts doubt on his hard-line Islamist credentials.((http://www.dw.com/de/islamisten-pornos-und-der-verfassungsschutz-das-r%C3%A4tsel-um-maulwurf-m/a-36596498 ))

Keeping apart investigators and investigated

This cases comes as a renewed blow to Germany’s much-criticised domestic intelligence agency. In recent years, the Verfassungsschutz has been rocked by successive revelations about its role in the series of murders and attacks by the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a far-right terrorist cell.

There have been worrisome questions about the agency’s knowledge and thus de facto complicity in the NSU’s activities: the German neo-Nazi scene is densely populated by the agency’s informants – so densely, in fact, that the Constitutional Court rejected a motion to ban the far-right NPD party in 2005 because it noted that it could not distinguish between party leadership and Verfassungsschutz personnel.

In the present case, the Verfassungsschutz once again appears to be rather too close to the people it seeks to monitor. Indeed, on facebook the suspect not only expressed regret about the recent arrest of Abu Walaa – reported by Euro-Islam – but was also friends not just with a number of Islamists but also with several functionaries from a far-right political party.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html ))

Renewed criticism of the Verfassungsschutz

The agency’s president, Hans-Georg Maaßen, stressed that all necessary security preconditions had been taken when the man was hired. Nevertheless, the fact that an individual who joined the Verfassungsschutz as a lateral entrant in April 2016 – after he had lost his previous job as a bank clerk((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html )) – could gain access to sensitive information so quickly raises considerable questions about the agency’s professionalism.

German parliamentarians also criticised Maassen and his office for failing to notify them immediately: news of the case broke only nearly two weeks after the arrest through revelations by Der Spiegel magazine.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/geheimdienst-islamist-schleicht-sich-bei-verfassungsschutz-ein-a-1123676.html ))

The threat of “infiltration”

The call for consequences has been swift: parliamentarians demanded, among other things, that the security checks of all Verfassungsschutz employees be conducted more often. Others called for a more dramatic restructuring of the agency itself.

Beyond these immediate reactions, however, what is likely to stick in the public’s perception is the threat of “infiltration”. As Euro-Islam reported, a recent survey found that 40 per cent of Germans believe that the country and its institutions are already “infiltrated” by Islam.

The media reaction to the suspected mole, at the Verfassungsschutz has most likely not dampened this anxiety. It was noteworthy, for instance, how many news outlets quickly focused on the man’s “conversion”—an act that, after all, seems to have occurred on the phone to an obscure contact in Austria if it occurred at all. ((See e.g. https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html, https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article159849913/Islamist-beim-Verfassungsschutz-enttarnt.html )) Conversion, as the ultimate act of infiltration, thus serves as the measuring stick for dangerousness.

‘Happy Ramadan’: Postal worker threatens to destroy mail featuring Muslim holiday stamps

The US Postal Service is investigating threats made online by a woman identifying herself as one of its mail carriers, Buzzfeed reported.
The woman identifying herself online as Catherine An Ray threatened to tamper with mail on Monday after sharing a post by anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller complaining about the release of a stamp commemorating the Muslim holiday of Eid.
“[As] A US Mail Carrier I can personally assure everyone here that anything with this stamp on it will be lost or destroyed in the system before is [sic] makes delivery,” Ray wrote. “Guaranteed. Happy Ramadan.”

Psych exam ordered for man accused of threatening military

CLEVELAND — A federal judge has ordered a man charged with soliciting people to kill members of the military to undergo a psychiatric evaluation to determine if he’s competent to stand trial.
Cleveland.com reports (http://bit.ly/29c333x ) that U.S. District Judge Dan Polster ordered the evaluation Monday after 23-year-old Terrence McNeil appeared to laugh when the judge told him he could face life in prison if convicted of solicitation of a crime of violence and threatening military personnel.
Authorities say McNeil posted online the names and addresses of more than 100 military personnel and asked people to kill them on behalf of the Islamic State group. He was indicted in December.

Friends With ISIS: How To Tell One Young Woman’s Story

Like most developing stories, nothing was for certain. Earlier this year I went to rural Washington State to meet a young woman who had befriended Islamic State sympathizers over the Internet.  Rukmini Callimachi, the reporter on the story, received a tip about “Alex” from an online activist. In February, we spoke to the 23-year-old woman and her grandmother by phone and discussed protecting their identities in exchange for telling her story.

Majority of French believe that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are increasing

According to a recent Odoxa survey for The Parisien, the majority of French believe that anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are increasing in France. Responding to the question: “Are you under the impression that within the last several years ‘anti-Semitism has increased?’” 68% of respondents answered affirmatively. Seventy-one percent believed that “within the last several years Islamophobia has increased.” The Parisien specified “that phobia signifies fear, so literally ‘fear of Islam,’ while anti-Semitism signifies hostility toward Jews.”

Those on the left were more likely to agree (84%, in contrast with 75% on the right, that Islamophobia has increased, while 75%, in contrast with 66% on the right, believed that anti-Semitism has increased.) “However the French are divided concerning the State’s role in organizing Islam,” stated the journal. To the question: “Should the State take measures to reform the ‘Islam the France,’ or should Muslims decide the organization of their religion for themselves?” 51% of respondents agreed with the first solution, while 48% preferred the second. The online survey took place from February 26-27 and gathered a sample of 1,003 people age 18 and over.